Our Humanity: The Price To Pay For Technological Advancement?
Okay the title of the post did not sound too right but you will understand why I chose it as you read on. You will agree with me that most things of value or worth will normally come with a price tagged to it. Have you ever wondered what the price of the insane technological advancement we have been witnessing (particularly in cybernetics) will be? What if all these will be at the expense of our humanity? Let's find out.
Before this era of practical advancements in cybernetics, the only place we used to catch a glimpse of all these was in sci-fi movies. However, in this ers, it seems like these science fictions are fast turning into science facts. A few years back, I read about the story of Neil Harbisson - he was born without the ability to detect some colours. In the long run, he opted for a surgical procedure where a cybernetic antenna was implanted from his brain right through his skull. With this antenna, he could literally "hear" colours as vibrations and he could detect some colour shades that are beyond the natural human limit. Someone might say "cool; problem solved". But really! At what price does this augmentation come? This is not to talk about the fact that it has given him unfair advantage over non-augmented humans. Okay let's look at how the process of cybernetic augmentation has affected the course of humanity.
I recently saw a 2018 sci-fi movie; "Upgrade". In the movie, a particular chip called "STEM" was implanted into a quadriplegic man just to help him regain the function of his limbs. But do you know what? At a point, after a hack was done to the chip, it went rogue and started controlling the host. It was like it evolved with a mind of its own. Okay this may look fictional, but so did other technologies that we have today once looked fictional at some point.
Whether we believe it or not, the human biological body is very limited, both in cognitive functions, physical strength, etc. This, definitely, is the major reason people are working to augment these limitations and to produce desired species. Prior to the advent of technology, the major changes in the early human species (hominids) was caused by evolution, which was almost a natural process. However, in this era, technology is now seen to have more effect than even the natural causes.
I once told a friend a few years ago that "very soon, humans will have the ability to create and re-create other human species through technology". This statement was opposed at that time, but here we are in this era, on the brink of achieving this. Maybe I will remind us again of this experiment where genetic editing was done right in a foetus inside the womb. Really! I mean, this is just like permanently editing a human specie before they are even born - if this isn't a pointer to the fact that we are already creating our own desired species, then what is it? Imagine if this kind of technology goes mainstream, humans can genetically edit a foetus to create a human born without fear, without emotions (the very attribute that makes us human), with super strength, etc. Would I be right to infer that technology is already superimposing (or rather; being favoured) over biology? This reminded me of the post by our dear @abigail-dantes and the comment I raised there about technology taking over the wheels.
Elon Musk once made a remark about how all these augmentations may lead to battle for supremacy. But I will like to add that; it will breed contention between the augmented and non-augmented humans. If you are a sports fan, then the name "Oscar Pistorius" will ring a bell. He's a sprinter from South Africa but he is an amputee with attached carbon-fibre blades. Take a look at this video clip of his performance before reading on.
Oscar once participated in Olympics (not only in paralympics for amputees). In his Olympics, he put up a shocking and outstanding performance and even out-ran people that had un-augmented limbs. On closer analysis, it was discovered that his pair of blades acted like micro-springs and gave him a boost while running. Also, the blade was designed in a way that it absorbs the runner's weight while compressing the blade, then quickly converting the potential energy of the blade (now acting like a spring) to kinetic energy. They saw this as an unfair advantage [ref] (it is no surprising that people called his blades "cheetah's legs"). When they found out about this unfair advantage, they also refused another blade runner; Markus Rehm from competing. Does this not tell you that the contention has begun?
Prior to this era, biological changes were seen as something natural, but apparently, with the arrival of technology, biology is now manipulatable. From the examples of Neil Harbisson and Oscar Pistorius that I cited earlier, you would have figured out one thing: Before now, the only use of prosthetics (including cybernetics) was to replace a non-functional or missing body part, but from what we have seen so far, these prosthetics have not only functioned as replacement for missing body part but have given the augments unnatural advantage over the un-augmented humans. That's the kind of world we are currently in.
Let me paint a clear picture with this illustration: Imagine if y'all are in a race (maybe the one that involves climbing mountains) and all of a sudden, boom!! one of the competitors mounts on an helicopter and flies to the finishing line. Okay that's unfair right? Now imagine the fairness of living in the same world with Transhumans (heavily augmented humans), having the same exams with them, competing with them in sports, etc... okay where is the fairness in that? Augmentation has now been proven not to be meant for therapeutic uses only but to upgrade human biological bodies (bio-enhancement) - Just like the case of Viktoria Modesta. She willingly opted for her leg to be surgically removed and replace with cybernetics; making her a fully recognized cyborg.
I remember few months back, I made mention of Brain-computer interface and Human-machine interface in some of my posts and how scientists are working to seamlessly link the human body with machines. It may interest you to know that, as the day passes, our relationships, interaction and our bond with our devices increase. This is so evident that humans are clearly and practically becoming more mechanical, while machines, on the other hands are tilting towards becoming more human. Here's the irony here; humans are getting augmented to circumvent the limitations of our biological bodies (and literally becoming less humans) but machines; with Artificial Intelligence; are incorporating consciousness to becoming self-aware. You can read about Project Alexandria or Sophia the humanoid robot to have a glimpse of this.
UPGRADING TO HUMAN+ (ENHANCEMENT)
This may fall into the grey area, but I will state that enhancement is not only when you get a robotic arm or robotic antenna. Think about this; you take sexual enhancers (like Viagra) to give yourself sexual boost, you use steroids to grow your muscles, etc. While doing all these, do you stop for a moment to think that this is part of enhancement?
In a few years from now, how many un-augmented humans do you think will be around in proportion to augmented humans? A particular prediction was made by a very respected and renowned futurist; Ray Kurzweil. He gave the roadmap to the dawn of technological singularity [ref]. Even though things may not align exactly to his prediction, but it does not take away the fact that a point when humans will merge with machines is fast approaching: this might be the birth of Singularity, where the human population will be a sum total of the different computational devices that were interfaced with them.
MERGER: GENTLEMEN, SHALL WE?
One major concern people have in this advancement is the need to merge with machines. Some proponents of emerging technology (the likes of Elon Musk, the late Stephen Hawking, etc) have predicted that a merger between humans and machines is inevitable. Come to think of it; "privacy" might cease to exist, because your thoughts and mind would have been interfaced with machines.
More so, when humans start merging with machines and computational devices, one thing would be inevitable: There will be conflict between the humans and the individual devices that make them up and also between other augmented humans for supremacy and superiority in technology. One thing this will make humans is to draw them away from "humanity" (dehumanization) - just like in the movie "Alita" (I know @lemouth does not watch movies but he will like this). I got a clip from it, enjoy.
Let's look at a flip side of this. Imagine if something goes wrong and this cybernetics go awry. Or maybe they finally evolve with consciousness or self-awareness (like what happened in "Upgrade"), the device that were meant to aid humans or to become their allies may start to act in opposite function.
Okay imagine if these techs fall into the wrong hands. It might just be a scenario where humans will begin to be colonized by machines, just like some African countries were colonized by Europeans. If you have read about the history of colonialism, you will agree with me that colonialism brought many dark sides with it, like civil conflict, slavery, etc. Imagine if this same effect gets replicated, but not in the hands of humans but in the hands of machines, what chances do the un-augmented humans have to survive?
A friend of mine once said that humans have paid bigger prices for other things and he would not mind paying his "humanity" for technology. This statement might seem like a fair choice but in the real sense of it, it is only certain that there are obvious prices to be paid with the insane advancement of technology. The limitation of the human body is the top reason people have tilted towards augmentation and not just purely as therapeutic uses. The truth is; whatever we think we have seen in the field of technology (both in cybernetics and others) is nothing compared to what the future will definitely bring to us. Here's a little spoiler alert for you: A period will come when it may be difficult to differentiate between humans and machines.
> References for further reading:
- Augmentation and Enhancement
- Singularity and human-machine merger
- Humans merging with machines
- Humans and AI
- Science of augmentation.pdf
- Mental abilities in AI.pdf
gif by @foundation